Back to the Future: RoseAnne Spraidlin's Future Pastby Nicole Pope
RoseAnne Spradlin’s Future Past
RoseAnne Spradlin’s latest work, Future Past, which premiered at DTW in February, calls to mind the celebrated lines from T.S. Eliot’s Quartet: “Time past and time future/What might have been and what has been/Point to one end, which is always present.” Future Past is a sometimes heady rumination on death. Spradlin does not employ movement, sound score, or narrative to manipulate the viewer emotionally. Instead, Spradlin choreographs these elements into living, breathing, and moving suggestions of a thought. Rather than being emotionally affected, viewers are much more likely, and invited, to ponder.
Future Past opens with dancer Chase Granoff examining a forest of faux fir trees. He stands with his back to the audience and takes slow drags from a cigarette. The smoke blows into the still, quiet space. Suddenly, there is the chilling, ominous possibility that anything may happen. Walter Dundervill and Tasha Taylor, nude from the waist down, run in circles; they are either chasing each other or being chased, just escaping the grasp of an invisible presence. Next, a dancer emerges amid the trees and burrows herself into the branches; sometimes with tenderness, at other times with vulgar aggression. Other dancers animate and then move the trees into an intimidating line. Eventually, the gang of evergreens approaches the audience as if to attack. It is this way that Future Past brings to life what seemingly has no life. As the dancers place limp, naked bodies into cardboard boxes labeled “Tree Plastics, Inc.,” they bury what still breathes. Such false life and death, as Spradlin feigns here, makes one wonder what real life and death may be.
Overall, Spradlin’s phrase work—best when minimal and pedestrian—seems an afterthought to the rest of the piece. The quality of movement is underdeveloped and lacks clarity of intention, so that it is unclear why they are dancing. Amidst a tableau vivant of absurd moments and filmic images, the movement does not prove itself to be essential to Future Past’s themes. In fact, the movement phrase that was repeated throughout the evening was entirely forgettable. In a rare moment when the movement seamlessly coalesced with the rest of the work, dancers ruminated on theories of death as they sloppily tossed their limbs in canon. Voice-overs muse on the subject of death: “I think you’re gone, that’s it”; “Feeling my consciousness change in that really extreme way”; “In physics nothing ever disappears; it just changes form.” This angst-filled meditation on death and the possibility of an afterlife is a laudable example of how Spradlin allows her viewers to engage in an internal dialogue about such subjects.
At the work’s close, six dancers (Dunderville, Granoff, Jennifer Kjos, Mina Nishimura, Stephanie Tack, and Taylor) drag six “tree” boxes onto the stage. Each dancer is positioned behind his or her respective boxes. White lights glare overhead. The dancers lift the box tops carefully, slowly. Frightened by the contents of the boxes, they shut them closed again. This Pandora-esque moment repeats. Perhaps the boxes offer a glimpse of the future, where each dancer’s own death is an inevitable future truth. In a final act of seeming acceptance, the dancers step into the boxes, closing the lids. It is as if they have come to terms with the present—and the future—past. Or so it seems that’s what Spradlin wants us to believe.